Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education


In addition to his notable work as a premier Christian philosopher, Nicholas Wolterstorff has become a leading voice on faith-based higher education. This volume gathers the best of Wolterstorff's essays from the past twenty-five years dealing collectively with the purpose of Christian higher education and the nature of academic learning.

Integrated throughout by the biblical idea of shalom, these nineteen essays present a robust framework for thinking about education that ...

See more details below
$22.68 price
(Save 9%)$25.00 List Price
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (13) from $9.70   
  • New (7) from $17.37   
  • Used (6) from $9.70   
Sending request ...


In addition to his notable work as a premier Christian philosopher, Nicholas Wolterstorff has become a leading voice on faith-based higher education. This volume gathers the best of Wolterstorff's essays from the past twenty-five years dealing collectively with the purpose of Christian higher education and the nature of academic learning.

Integrated throughout by the biblical idea of shalom, these nineteen essays present a robust framework for thinking about education that combines a Reformed confessional perspective with a radical social conscience and an increasingly progressivist pedagogy. Wolterstorff develops his ideas in relation to an astonishing variety of thinkers ranging from Calvin, Kuyper, and Jellema to Augustine, Aquinas, and Kant to Weber, Habermas, and MacIntyre. In the process, he critiques various models of education, classic foundationalism, modernization theory, liberal arts, and academic freedom.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Richard J. Bernstein
"I have known Nick Wolterstorff for almost fifty years, and I have always admired his rare combination of Christian commitment, high standards of argument and clarity, imagination, aesthetic sensibility, and serious commitment to social justice. It is a joy to read these well-crafted essays about the character and purpose of a faith-based higher education. I do not know of anyone who writes about these complex issues with as much intelligence, care, lucidity, and humane sensitivity."

Richard T. Hughes
"Over the years no one has thought more deeply or written more perceptively about the relation of Christian faith to teaching, learning, and scholarship than Nicholas Wolterstorff. Likewise, no one has argued more persuasively that authentic Christian scholarship is not just a matter of cognition but, more than that, is scholarship placed in the service of peace and justice for humankind. Ranging over a period of twenty-five years, these essays will stretch your thinking, quicken your imagination, and deepen your commitment to the noblest purposes of Christian learning."

Merold Westphal
"Drawing deeply on the breadth of Nicholas Wolterstorff's more technical philosophical contributions, these highly accessible essays present a vision of Christian higher education that may well prove to be his richest legacy to us. I hope they will be widely read and discussed by administrators, faculty, and students at colleges and universities that seek to make their religious identity, whether Protestant or Catholic, a living reality."

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802827531
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
  • Publication date: 1/3/2004
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 870,022
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Educating for Shalom

Essays on Christian Higher Education
By Nicholas Wolterstorff

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Copyright © 2004 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
All right reserved.

Chapter One

Rethinking Christian Higher Education

The number of church-related colleges that are today engaged in fundamental rethinking of their mission or have done such rethinking within the past decade is quite astounding. What that means, surely, is that the traditional ways of understanding our mission are breaking down, becoming obscure, or being questioned. If the traditions were vital, understood, and accepted, we would be dealing with details, not with fundamental rethinking.

Why is this fundamental rethinking taking place? Why is there the shared sense of losing our grip on a tradition? History provides some clues.

Historical Background

The great period for the formation of church-related colleges in the United States - and the United States is peculiar in regard to its abundance of church related institutions of higher education - was of course the nineteenth century, as the Christian church spread westward - past the Appalachians, across the prairies, up to the Rockies. The church, in all its branches, was persuaded of the importance of education; wherever it went, it founded colleges. Although the need for an educated clergy was usually uppermost in the minds of the founders, customarily there was also the conviction that higher education was needed for training the leaders of our democratic society.

At the very time that the churches were engaged in this quite astounding project of founding colleges across the land, the American system of public elementary and secondary schools was taking shape. I would guess that the fundamental reason for the difference in governance of higher and lower education - church-governed colleges and state-governed elementary and secondary schools - was the importance of clergy training in the colleges. The education provided by the state was to be for all comers; "nonsectarian," it was often called. Those who wanted sectarian education, of whatever sort and for whatever purpose, had to provide it themselves. Given the divisions of the church, the education of clergy was necessarily "sectarian."

As for those who went on to college but were not training for the clergy, probably for the most part they did not sense any big difference between the education they had received in the public lower schools and the education they were getting in their church-sponsored college; the continuity was more striking than the discontinuity - at least for Protestants. A rather generic Protestantism reigned in the public schools; unless one was training for the clergy, that same generic Protestantism shaped most collegiate education.

It should be added that already in the nineteenth century there were colleges free of church relationship; in particular, there were colleges and universities that were state-supported and state-operated. But throughout the nineteenth century, these had but a minor place in the big scheme of American higher education.

A massive change took place after World War II. The state universities ballooned in size, becoming, with the exception of a few of the old private universities, the most powerful and wealthy components in the system. All the church-related colleges in the country began to feel threatened and beleaguered. Their reactions, in retrospect, were predictable. The state universities were massive; the church-related colleges took to praising the educational benefits of smallness. The liberal arts were but a small component within the total curriculum of the state universities; the church-related colleges took to praising the liberal arts. And so forth.

Social Context: Public Piety, Commonality, Accommodation

The rethinking that the church-related colleges are currently engaged in seems to me motivated, in good measure, by this massive alteration in the system represented and caused by the growth of the state universities. I am inclined to think, however, that it is not the major motivation, since much of the rethinking induced by this alteration took place a decade or two in the past; it does not explain the rethinking that has been taking place recently.

What does explain it? Let me make a suggestion. Fundamental to American life, molding us into one people and distinguishing us from other peoples, is what may be called (following Richard Neuhaus) our public piety. By that I mean our complex of national rituals and symbols; our venerated leaders, places, events, and artifacts; our goals as a people; and our beliefs concerning the significance of the American people. This cluster of beliefs, goals, rituals, symbols, and objects of veneration together give expression to the American people's shared sense of the transcendent, the sacred. In recent years this totality has often been referred to as the American civil religion - though for reasons that I will not go into now, I judge that to think of it as a distinct religion is to distort the situation.

This public piety is distinct from every true religion in American society - as can be seen at a glance by noticing that Washington and Lincoln are venerated figures in the public piety, whereas they are not "saints" in any of the religions in our society. What is equally true, though, is that the public piety interacts with the various distinct religions; the two by no means merely co-exist.

As I see it, the relation between the public piety and the various distinct religions is one in which two fundamental dynamics are at work. Within the public piety there is what I shall call the dynamic of creative commonality. By this I mean that there is constant change and development in the public piety in response to the emergence of new patterns of thought in American culture, including new patterns of religious thought. These revisions in the public piety are creative revisions, in that new lines of thought are not merely added to what was already there, nor is a new common denominator found; rather, a new amalgam emerges. I call it a dynamic of commonality because the goal is that almost everyone be able to embrace the public piety, no matter what his or her religion or ideology.

The counterpart, on the side of the diverse religions, is what may be called the dynamic of accommodation. The particular religions are constantly accommodating themselves to changes in the public piety. They harmonize their views and practices with the public piety, so that, with minor exceptions, they all become recognizably American religions. I do not want to suggest that the church has never played a prophetic role in America; certainly it has. But I do think the reason many people think there is no significant tension, let alone contradiction, between the Christian religion and the American public piety is that, on the one hand, the public piety has been shaped (in part) by the churches, and on the other hand, the churches have at the same time accommodated themselves to the public piety. It is because of this bi-directional dynamic interaction between the public piety and the diverse religions that people fail to see any gap between being a good Christian and being a good American, instead viewing the various particular religions as optional sectarian versions of the public piety.

It is my impression that recent developments are causing a tension between these two beyond what any mutual accommodation can ease. More and more, the churches are seeing themselves not as specific versions of the public piety but as in conflict with that piety; a sense of "overagainstness" is arising.

In our culture today there is a powerful current of anti-religious, libertarian, self-centered sensualism; the public piety is gradually being revised to accommodate this current. The churches are accommodating themselves to some of this by, here and there, urging us to get in touch with our bodies, encouraging transactional analysis, and the like; but they are finding it difficult to swallow the whole lump. I have to concede that at the beginning of the nineteenth century one could scarcely have believed that the church would come around to believing that the goal of human beings on earth is to accumulate personal wealth by competing with each other; yet in good measure it did. Just possibly the same sort of accommodation may happen again; but I doubt it.

Be that as it may, it has not happened yet. Instead, in many of our churches there has emerged a much deeper sense of overagainstness with respect to American culture than was ever present before, including, in particular, overagainstness with respect to the public piety. The implication for the church-related colleges is that the cozy notion that we could base our teaching on what everybody in our society holds in common, adding to that our own sectarian peculiarities, seems less and less plausible. My speculation is that this is the major cause of the rethinking going on in all directions.

If I am right about this, then the need of the day is for a new vision of the mission of the church-related college; we can no longer think of it as a college in which sectarian peculiarities are added on to what all Americans share in common. I should add that some church-related colleges have responded by no longer even trying to add on sectarian peculiarities. When asked to justify their existence in the shadow of the state universities, they plead no more than smallness and concentration on the liberal arts.

A New Vision: Religiously Alternative Education

What might a new vision of the mission of the church-related college look like?

We will have to dig down to religious and theological fundamentals. In the beginning, God created humans out of dust; we human beings are one with our fellow creatures in terms of our physical constitution. Nevertheless, we are unique among them. We alone have a calling, a calling issued by God; we alone are answerable. That calling is to tend and cherish the earth, to love our neighbors as we also rightly love ourselves, and to acknowledge God in all God's ways.

We defected from that calling. We rebelled. We fell into sin, with all its attendant miseries. But God, so the Christian confesses, was not content to let us wallow in the misery of our sin. God has been working for renewal, for restoration, for redemption. In large part God has done so by creating and calling a people to be God's agents on earth - first, a distinct race, Israel; then, at Pentecost, the church, a new nation, no longer a race but a transnational people consisting of those committed to following Christ in carrying out God's work.

We can summarize the calling of that people, the church, in the world today with three words. The church is called to witness - to be a witness to the coming of God's Kingdom, God's work of renewal, urging all people everywhere to repent and join the band of Christ's followers. The church is called to serve - to serve all people everywhere by relieving their misery and their lack of joy, both attacking the structures that victimize and alleviating the misery of the victims. And the church is called, in its own life and community, to give evidence of the new life - not just to wait around in the promise that someday there will be a new heaven and a new earth, but to exhibit the fact that in Christ there is a new Power and that the Kingdom has broken in.

It must be said forthrightly, with pained regret, that, as Christ warned his disciples, to the end of the age there will be alienation and even hostility between the church thus understood and the surrounding society. For that surrounding society lives by other values; it has other goals, and it worships other gods. Our American attempt to treat and see the various Christian denominations, indeed, the various religions, as nothing more than specific versions of the public piety that unites us all - that is a deep illusion.

I can now state what I see as the nature and mission of the church-related college - or, as I prefer to call it, the Christian college. The Christian college is a project of and for the Christian community. An implication of what I said above is that the Christian community exists not for its own sake but for the sake of all people. Nonetheless, the mission of the Christian college is determined, at bottom, by the fact that it is a project of and for the Christian community. It is obvious that in the modern world, if the Christian community is to share in God's work of renewal by being witness, servant, and evidence, its young members will need an education pointed toward equipping them to contribute to that calling.

This means, as I see it, that we will have to commit ourselves to alternative education - that is, religiously alternative education. Whether our education also comes in small units, and whether it focuses almost all of its attention on the liberal arts, are, to my mind, negotiable matters.

Educational Implications

If I am right about this, then, as I see it, there are six large areas in which together we must begin to explore what the alternative should look like.

First, we shall have to work out a pedagogy appropriate to the Christian college. By pedagogy I mean how we teach what we teach. It is my impression - possibly I am betraying my ignorance - that none of us has done much of anything in this area. No doubt we have all moved away from the rather authoritarian pedagogical techniques used in the past; but I doubt that any of us has fully thought through what we should be moving toward. In recent years some teachers at some of our schools have begun to use behaviorist or quasi-behaviorist techniques - without, however, first engaging in a thorough Christian assessment of the foundations of behaviorism. Others have begun using self-realization techniques, again without any thorough Christian assessment of the self-realization ideology now sweeping our country.

Second, we must work out a curriculum appropriate to the Christian college - by which I mean a structure of required and optional courses. We all do have a curriculum, of course. Nonetheless, it is my impression that we have not put much deep and sustained thought into the curriculum required by our goals.

Third, we must work out a community structure appropriate to the Christian college. A college is perforce a community of a certain sort, or at least a society. Students are there primarily to receive the educational services offered; and faculty are there primarily to offer the services for which students have come. There is a large support staff in addition to the faculty, and an administration that keeps - or tries to keep - the whole enterprise working harmoniously and effectively. Within this structure, authority and responsibility for various tasks are distributed around the community; and there are rules for the comportment and functioning of the various components of the community.


Excerpted from Educating for Shalom by Nicholas Wolterstorff Copyright © 2004 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Rethinking Christian Higher Education 3
Teaching for Shalom: On the Goal of Christian Collegiate Education 10
The Mission of the Christian College at the End of the Twentieth Century 27
The Integration of Faith and Learning - The Very Idea 36
On the Idea of a Psychological Model of the Person That Is Biblically Faithful 46
The Point of Connection between Faith and Learning 64
The World for Which We Educate 87
A Case for Disinterested Learning 100
The Project of a Christian University in a Postmodern Culture 109
Teaching for Justice: On Shaping How Students Are Disposed to Act 135
Autobiography: The Story of Two Decades of Thinking about Christian Higher Education 155
Can Scholarship and Christian Conviction Mix? Another Look at the Integration of Faith and Learning 172
Abraham Kuyper on Christian Learning 199
Particularist Perspectives: Bias or Access? 226
Academic Freedom in Religiously Based Colleges and Universities 241
Christian Learning In and For a Pluralist Society 254
Should the Work of Our Hands Have Standing in the Christian College? 264
What Is the Reformed Perspective on Christian Higher Education? 276
Call to Boldness: A Response to Fides et Ratio 288
Afterword 295
Bibliography 300
Index 305
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)